On July 14, the United States and five other nations announced an agreement with Iran to limit Iran’s development of nuclear weapons in exchange for lifting international sanctions. The agreement has already generated considerable controversy. Israel and some in the United States have been sharply critical, while President Obama and others have defended it. Congress has until mid-September to review the agreement.
PAW asked several faculty members for their assessments of the agreement. Is this a good deal? A bad deal? A missed opportunity? The best that could be hoped for under the circumstances? We present their conclusions below.
Daniel Kurtzer (Frank Wojciechowski)
Daniel Kurtzer, S. Daniel Abraham Visiting Professor in Middle East Policy Studies and former U.S. ambassador to Egypt (1997-2001) and Israel (2001-2005)
As a nonproliferation agreement, the agreement is quite strong. It blocks several pathways Iran had been employing to potentially reach a nuclear capability. It sets a severe limit on the amount of enriched uranium that can remain in the country. And it limits the number of centrifuges Iran is permitted to keep.
There are three issues that matter most. One, to what extent can inspectors catch Iran should it cheat? That is an open question. Two, what happens if we catch them cheating? This goes to the will of the administration to take action. Will the president of the United States hold Iran to a very high standard, or will he accept some ambiguity in their behavior? Third, will Iran come clean on its previous nuclear program? This is part of a separate agreement Iran has made with the International Atomic Energy Agency. If Iran doesn’t report things that we know they have been doing, that would be another violation.
Would we have been better off holding on to sanctions and squeezing Iran harder until it capitulated and abandoned its nuclear program altogether? That is unrealistic. Most experts believe that the sanctions were not going to be effective for much longer. Russia and China certainly would have backed away from them if the United States had walked away from negotiations.
Some have asked why we did not include all of Iran’s other bad behavior in the deal. The explanation comes down to tactics. The administration made a choice to isolate the nuclear issue from all the others. We know Iran is doing other bad things in the region, such as backing Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, but the administration believes that we are in a stronger position to address those problems if Iran is not also developing a nuclear capability.
David Menashri, visiting fellow at Princeton; founding director of the Alliance Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University
The Iranians made a pragmatic decision to make some concessions on the nuclear issue in order to get relief from the sanctions. The end result is that those who wanted just to delay the Iranian nuclear program can be satisfied.
Still, I would say the Iranians won. Two years ago, the Iranians were desperate. The international sanctions were ruining their economy, and the currency lost much of its value. Unemployment was high and so was inflation. Their regional allies (Syria, Hizballah, Iraqi government) were in trouble. Disillusionment and disenchantment were mounting. So the Iranian government realized that they needed to make some concessions on the nuclear front to achieve their other interests. Continue reading